INDONESIA, A MARITIME NATION: Celebrating our past and our present

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The RI Navy Warship Gadjah Mada-408 in Naval Base III Cirebon. (Photo: Doc. of Indonesian Naval Forces’ Historical Naval Information Office)

IO – Our maritime realm has passed through a long journey; chronicling its history would un­doubtedly produce multiple volumes of maritime history. It is very rich and illustrious indeed. In commemoration of Indonesia’s 75th Independence Day this year and National Maritime Day, celebrated on August 21 every year, I will flash back to highlight several gov­ernment institutions entrusted with managing the archipela­go’s vast swathes of sea.

First of all, the Indone­sian Navy (TNI AL, former­ly ALRI). A month after the independence was proclaimed by Soekarno and Hatta, the government of the Republic of Indonesia established the People’s Security Sea Service (BKR Laut), on September 10, 1945. This was an important milestone marking the nation’s naval development. BKR Laut was pioneered by those who had formerly served at Konin­klijke (Royal) Marine during the Dutch colonization and Kaigun (Japanese Navy) during the Japanese occupation. The founding fathers of the Indo­nesian Navy took advantage of the abandoned ships and bases previously managed by Japanese shipping lines.

They then recruited addi­tional personnel to become the newly-independent republic’s sea guards. This endeavor, sub­sequently, also contributed to spreading the news of the proc­lamation and establishment of armed forces in many regions. They also attempted to break the Dutch sea blockade, in order to get international assistance. Their heroism was reflected in various naval battles with the Dutch Navy in various places such as the Battle of the Bali Strait, the Battle of Cirebon sea, and the Battle of Sibolga.

With their limited strength, the marine operations they carried out became the pillar behind the formation of armed forces in South Kalimantan, Bali and Sulawesi. However, their advance was halted and they had to retreat to the in­terior after most of the ships were sunk and almost all bases were bombarded by Dutch and Allied forces. Thus was the or­igin of the nickname “Navy of the Mountain”. However, their determination to return to their role as sea guardians never sub­sided.

During the War for Inde­pendence, the Indonesian Navy succeeded in forming a Corps Armada (CA), Corps Mariner (CM), and training institutions in many places. These components became the basis for the establish­ment of a modern Navy. By the end of the War of Independence, the ALRI emerged as a modern Navy. As part of the consensus of the Round Table Conference, ALRI has since 1949 received various types equipment, in the form of warships as well as bases. This coincides with consolidation within its organization and re­cruitment of personnel through its many training facilities.

In the decade between 1949- 1959, ALRI succeeded in bolster­ing its strength and capabilities. It managed to form a Fleet, Marine Corps (formerly Marine Com­mand Corps/KKO-AL), Naval Aviation and a number of Mar­itime Regional Commands un­der its structure. ALRI’s combat equipment also vastly improved, both from the handover of the Dutch Navy and purchases made from various countries.

The training of professional sailors has also received greater at­tention, within the establishment in order to recruit potential person­nel, ranging from enlisted officers, non-commissioned officers to ac­tive-duty officers. More and more ALRI sailors were trained over­seas. ALRI also began to refine its strategy, tactics and techniques for marine operations implemented in various military operations in deal­ing with various separatist move­ments that emerged during the 1950s. In crushing the rebellions of PRRI (a subversive government set up in Sumatera to oppose the central government of Indonesia in 1958) in Sumatra, Permesta in Sulawesi, DI/TII in West Java, and RMS in Maluku, ALRI gathered valuable lessons in marine opera­tions, amphibious operations, and joint operations with other services.

When the threat of national disintegration began to dissipate, the ALRI in 1959 launched a program known as Toward a Glo­rious Navy. Up to 1965, ALRI made significant progress. This was mainly driven by the politics of confrontation to seize West Papua where diplomatic resolu­tion was deemed elusive. Various Navy vessels from Eastern Eu­ropean countries strengthened the Navy arsenal and made it the dominant force at that time. Some of the well-known equipment the Indonesian Navy possessed then include cruiser KRI Irian, a Sko­ry-class destroyer, a Riga-class frigate, a Whiskey-class subma­rine, a Komar-class missile boat, an Ilyushin IL-28 long-range bomb­er, and a PT-76 amphibious tank. With this power at its disposal the ALRI was named the largest naval force in Asia during the 1960s.

There were several marine operations conducted during the Liberate West Papua campaign popularly known as Operation Trikora. In the beginning, Indo­nesian Navy torpedo boats had to face off with Dutch Navy destroy­ers, frigates and aircraft in the Aru Sea on January 15, 1962. Commo­dore Yos Soedarso and KRI Macan Tutul were sunk in the ferocious naval battle. The event, which was commemorated as the Dharma Samudera Day, spurred patriotism to take West Irian using military force. At that time ALRI was able to organize Operation Jayawijaya, which was the largest amphibious operation in the history of Indo­nesian military operations. No less than 100 warships and 16,000 soldiers were deployed. The over­ whelming power eventually forced the Dutch to return to the negotiating table and an agreement was reached to hand over West Irian to Indonesia.

The Indonesian politics of confrontation against Neo Colonialism and Imperialism (Nekolim) were continued in Operation Dwikora to sabotage the formation of the Malaysian federation. Although elements of the Indonesian Armed Forces had been readied for the opera­tion, the operation was limited to infiltration. Soldiers from Navy’s KKO-AL combat unit were involved in this stage. At the same time, ALRI held a flotilla flag parade in order to counteract provocations by the Allied Forces’ Navy.

Operation Dwikora was discontinued due to change of government in Indonesia after the September 30th Movement (G30S/PKI). Since 1966, ALRI entered a new chapter in its his­tory, with its integration into the Indonesian Armed Forces (ABRI). This enabled it to synergize its role in the defense and security area so that doctrinally, the development of each service’s strength and capa­bilities can be centralized. The most prominent operation during the 1970s was Operation Seroja to inte­grate East Timor into the Republic of Indonesia. The Indonesian Navy played an active role in troop land­ing operations, joint ground opera­tions, and troop mobilization by sea.

When the winds of reform blew in 1998-1999, the Indonesian Navy underwent reform, together with other government agencies. As a re­sult, the Indonesian Navy saw one of its chiefs appointed as the TNI Commander, a position which had long been occupied by the Army. From the non-military side or mil­itary operations other than war, the role of the Indonesian Navy has also been expanded. One of them is its involvement in the task force to eradicate illegal fishing, spear­headed by the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

Second, the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry (KKP). In­donesia’s maritime development began in 1911 with the establish­ment of the Bugerlijk Openbare Werken which was changed to the Department of Verkeer en Water­staat in 1931. This Dutch colonial legacy was the forerunner to the ministry that manages the coun­try’s maritime realm today. At that time, the work unit was responsible for the development of the coastal community whose economic activi­ties relied on the marine sector. The Ordinance of 1939 on territorial sea was enacted by the Dutch East In­dies, which stipulated that the sea area of the Dutch East Indies ex­tends itself into the sea to a distance of three miles from the low tide-line of each island.

During the Japanese occupa­tion, Indonesian youth were pro­vided with many sorts of training in fisheries by the Japanese colo­nial government. Called gyomin boozyoo, the training was held in Tegal and Batang, Central Java. Participants were prioritized for those who live in coastal areas throughout Java. The length of training was three months with ma­terials covering the basics of sailing and fishing.

Those who had completed the training were sent back to their respective regions to apply and de­velop the knowledge they gained. Furthermore, between 1942 and 1945, government-owned fisheries agencies were expanded. During this time, fishery information of­fices called Suisan Shidozo were es­tablished. This era also saw the inte­gration of inland fisheries, with sea fisheries, although they were still included in the agricultural sector.

After the Proclamation of In­dependence, the first presidential cabinet of the Republic of Indo­nesia assembled on September 2, 1945 established the Ministry of People’s Welfare with Minister Syafruddin Prawiranegara. In this department, a Fisheries Service was formed to manage inland and sea waters fisheries. Until the for­mation of the third parliamentary cabinet on July 3, 1947, the Fisher­ies Service remained under the co­ordination of Agricultural, Trade and Industry Department of the Ministry of People’s Welfare.

When Indonesia gained its sovereignty around 1949, the Ministry of People’s Welfare was split into two separate entities, namely, the Ministry of Agricul­ture and the Ministry of Trade and Industry. From the Ampera cabinet to the end of the New Or­der, fisheries and marine affairs went practically unattended, even though the country’s marine and fishery resources were very rich and diverse.

To address this problem, Presi­dent of the post-reform era the late Abdurrahman Wahid established the Marine Exploration Depart­ment (DEL,) by appointing Sar­wono Kusumaatmaja as Minister of Marine Exploration. However, the use of that nomenclature did not last long. At the suggestion of the House of Representative and various parties, the Department of Marine Exploration was changed to the Department of Marine Ex­ploration and Fisheries (DELP) on December 1, 1999, and changed again based on the Presidential Decree No. 165/2000 to the De­partment of Marine Affairs and Fisheries.

With the subsequent succession of power in national leadership, the nomenclature has also changed. Now, the official designation is the Marine Affairs and Fisheries Min­istry (KKP). However, its main du­ties and functions remain the same, namely, to build the fishery sector so that it can become a mainstay of the national economy. Meanwhile, the marine sector which also falls into the domain of the ministry is expected to be able to spur more sustainable use of marine resources, one way being through conduct­ing more marine research. Un­fortunately, the previous minister canceled many of these activities, especially those in collaboration with foreign partners, when she was in power. The minister also sank more fishing boats than her pre­decessors. Fortunately, her succes­sor did not continue this “legacy”. During the first administration of President Joko Widodo, countries whose ships were detained and sunk lodged protests with Coor­dinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Luhut B. Pandjaitan and Vice President Jusuf Kalla against this policy.

Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Edhy Prabowo has on several occasions expressed his intention to continue the policy to sink illegal fishing boats. “I will continue sinking ships; why should I be afraid,” he stated in a television interview after being elected min­ister. There was nothing wrong with his statement.

But a vision can’t be that short­sighted, can it? Minister Edhy needs to know the following things, if he insists in continuing the poli­cy to sink fishing boats. First, this policy has the potential to scare off investors who want to invest their money in Indonesia’s fisheries sector. In fact, in his inauguration speech, President Joko Widodo wanted to encourage rapid inflow of potential investment, especially from overseas, in the next five years of his administration.

Based on Presidential Regu­lation (Perpres) No. 44/2016 on Capture Fisheries, foreign invest­ment is declared closed for this sub-sector. However, given the wishes of the number one person in Indonesia, it is highly likely that the regulation will be loosened. There­fore, the policy of sinking fishing boats is clearly counterproductive if the Perpres is later revoked.

Second, ships, including fish­ing boats, are a unique property. The ship bears a flag of the country of its origin. If the ship is involved in a dispute, the flag state must be fully involved by the legal process in the port state/coastal state. The legal process is held at the admiralty court. This is an arbitration court to settle one party’s action that re­sult in loss of the other. There are no prosecutors, judges or lawyers here. The maritime court covers the technical aspect (in this case the ship and its supporting infra­structure), the tactical aspect (the administration and management of ship and its supporting facilities) and the business aspect (the com­merce of the ship operation and its supporting facilities).

The three components are mostly in the form of rules and procedures which are based on written agreements, not laws and regulations. Because it is technical, there is no criminalization of the ship crews. If the ship is detained, it will be only for a short period. After paying the fine, the ship is allowed to sail back to complete its contract of carriage.

In Indonesia, the decision to sink a ship is issued by the Fisher­ies Court. The nuance of criminal­ization is rife here. The defendants (crews of foreign fishing boats who conducted illegal fishing) are con­sidered criminals. Meanwhile, the ship will be sunk. There is no oth­er verdict. Fortunately, Minister Edhy Prabowo finally canceled his intention to continue the policy to sink fishing boats. It is worth ap­preciating.

The problem that currently became the public spotlight is the policy of Minister Edhy Prabowo to allow the export of lobster larvae, which was banned by his predeces­sor. Of course, Edhy’s policy was harshly criticized by the public, in­cluding by his predecessor. It seems that public opinion is swayed by his predecessor’s opinion who aggres­sively commented on his policy. This is quite unfortunate and to say the least, unethical. It is best that Minister Edhy remains steadfast in implementing his resumption of lobster larvae export policy. There is no need to be swayed by rivaling opinions as in the saying “the dogs bark, but the caravan goes on.”

In order not to get caught up in endless debates about the export of lobster larvae, it is bet­ter for Minister Edhy Prabowo to keep focusing on managing the marine sector in his portfo­lio. There are many issues that need to be addressed here, one being the enslavement of Indo­nesian ship crews aboard foreign fishing boats. Domestically this problem also exists. In 2015, slavery at sea became a hot topic in media after the capture of the Benjina fishing boat belonging to PT Benjina Pusaka Resourc­es in the Aru Islands, Maluku.

Unfortunately, the furor sparked by the incident was not strong enough to affect the do­mestic legal system to end, or at least reduce, slavery at sea involving Indonesian nationals. The KKP minister at that time did not take enough action with her status as the national “ma­rine village chief”. This posi­tion can be maximized by Edhy Prabowo today. Perhaps he can imitate his predecessor’s initia­tive with the formation of Task Force 115 to eradicate illegal fishing. The same can be done to eradicate slavery at sea.

Last but not least, Edhy Prabowo also needs to reconsid­er the idea to activate the marine research program with friend­ly countries – now suspended. Thus, the public discourse can move away from debating the polemic of lobster larvae exports. Fingers crossed. (SISWANTO RUSDI)

SISWANTO RUSDI, Is the Founder and Di­rector of the National Maritime Institute (Nama­rin). He holds a Masters degree in Communications from Universitas Persada Indonesia and a Masters degree in Strategic stud­ies from Nanyang Techno­logical University.